Format Each New Script Draft Like a Pro Even W/O Pro Software!

Gak! Not the kind of slugline we're talking about here...this time.
Gak! Not the kind of slugline we’re talking about here…this time.

by Diana Black

We’ve heard the mantra, “Don’t give them an excuse to pass on the script” Good advice period. That first pitch is the first-and-only opportunity to impress.

So, you’ve ‘tightened’ in terms of the narrative arc, characterization is multi-layered and reads true across the narrative and character arcs and, having invested in scriptwriting software, the formatting is ‘industry standard’. But what about the SLUG LINES?

Are you absolutely sure you’ve been consistent when going back to the same location? Unless you’ve kept a handy notebook and written down each slug line as you’ve worked, by the time you’ve got to page 60 or 120 – if it’s inconsistent, it may be contributing to confusion and that’s a ‘PASS’.

I don’t know about you, but I’m lazy. Perfectionism aside, which is another issue altogether, if I have to do something, I want it get ‘right’ first time so that I don’t have to do it twice. I also want to ensure that every task has multiple spin-offs. That said, we HAVE to do multiples drafts – it’s a given and a ‘different animal’ to polishing, so why not get smart and make the process as efficient as possible?

Most new writers go without professional screenwriting software like Final Draft and its brothers. Not necessarily out of choice but financial necessity. If we’re going to appear professional, we need to work through a way that ensures consistency and multiple benefits when at the polishing stage:

Step One: Number your scenes on the screenplay/teleplay.

Step Two: Create a new Outline Page in MS Word or equivalent – generate a numbered list down the page that matches the number of scenes in the script.

(You should already have had an Outline before sitting down to write FADE IN,  but that’s a given, yes?)

Step Three: Narrow the new Outline and the Script – so that you can see both at the same time.

Step Four: Go through the script and on the new Outline Page list only the SLUGLINES, as in:


Scene numbers on the script and Outline should match.

If you’ve listed the same location as INT. BEDROOM – DAY and INT. CHELSEA’S BEDROOM – DAY, it will be easier to spot AND because you’ve numbered the scenes, it’ll be easy to locate the slug line that needs rectifying on the script.

Step Five: For each scene on the script, list only the essential action on the new Outline – ensuring you’ve used decisive ‘action’ words, no adverbs and 99.9 % action only, while ‘delivering’ on nuance (Google it) and that the latter is consistent.

Trust the Actors and the Reader – they don’t need extraneous BS and it’ll make for a faster read. What are you trying to say/achieve in this scene? Does the scene ‘deliver’? Is it essential? Hence the rationale for doing another Outline after the screenplay has been written – we know the complete narrative arc and we can easily determine whether or not the scene is superfluous or necessary because it drives the narrative forward and/or it’s a set-up/pay-off.

Don’t think of this as extraneous work but an opportunity to polish – you’re going for a quick read that delivers salient detail with the nuance of the scene and overall narrative intact – hard to determine if you get bogged down with all the elements in the scene at the same time.

Find the balance between ‘lean’ and retaining the ‘gold’.

Before removing the Scene numbering, retain it for detailed discussion between colleagues, the table read and for the writing group – it will help people refer to/navigate to a specific scene with ease. Then remove the scene numbering before formally submitting. Production managers will thank you because they love to do the numbering themselves!

Follow these steps and if you get in your ‘Inbox’, “Yeah, sure send me (Producer) over the script – let’s take a look at what you got…” you’ll also have a polished Outline for ‘the suits’ if called in for a confab.